When my youngest said she wanted to sign up for her school's first cross country team this fall, I had mixed feelings. I thought this would be very good for her; she needed the exercise, and running -- you know -- that's pretty basic, something she could do for the rest of her life.
On the other hand, I knew she was very out of shape, and she was going to be running in the new-to-us overwhelming Texas heat. Practices in the afternoon at the highest temps of the day -- high 90s to 100s. I didn't know if she could keep it up, and I also didn't know if she had the self-awareness to know when she was pushing herself too hard.
Her first practice just confirmed my reservations. When I picked her up, she fell into tears in the car. It was horrible, she said. She felt sick the whole time. She was far behind everyone else. She was going to pull the team down and they would never win anything because of her and nobody would like her, etc. And this was a morning practice, before school started.
But she persevered. She set goals for herself to increase her running time every day -- goals that I thought were really too ambitious, but she met them. She dreaded practices all day, but she kept going. (One mom told me, "Your daughter said this was a good practice because she went longer before she started to feel sick. Now that's a good attitude!") The day when she went out to run with me and jogged for twenty minutes straight without stopping, I was stunned and so proud. On our first attempt, she had hardly lasted three minutes.
Last Saturday was her first meet. Again, she was dreading it. Even though she knew she had improved, she also knew she was still the slowest on the team. "Their easy pace is my moderate pace," she told me. Just the warm-up wore her out. When she was standing at the starting line red-faced and sweaty from the get-go, I was more than a little afraid for how this was going to turn out.
It was SCA's first meet with its first cross country team; only three of our girls were competing. I stood with the moms at the finish line, watching and cheering for the other two girls on the team as they crossed. Then I watched for my girl. And watched and watched. Everyone else was done. I started to worry that something had happened to her.
Then I saw her turn the corner, headed for the finish line -- and someone was running beside her! Oh, thank God, I thought, someone else is at the end of the pack with her. But then I saw that girl run off the track to the side and stop. What happened? Did she give up?
No, I found out later this was a high school runner -- we don't know her name, we don't know what school she went to. She saw my daughter running by herself at the tail end of the pack and stepped out on the track to run with her, almost the whole mile. She talked to her, encouraged her, had her hand on my daughter's back. I could kiss this young lady. If I see her at another meet, I may very well do so.
Another mom from our school also ran with her for a little ways. My husband ran with her for a little ways. Older runners from the earlier races that were lining the track cheered her on. And when she rounded that corner and picked up speed to cross the finish line, everyone cheered her there, too.
My husband and I both almost cried.
She came in last. I don't care. She cut a whole three minutes off of her best time at practice. She could quit cross country today and I would deem the whole thing a success.
But she won't. And that's why I'm proud.